The question that always goes around, for a least a short while, in every American Presidential election is “Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?” This is especially true when there is an incumbent running for reelection, but it is always asked, because this is a two party system and the election is always a referendum on one of them on some level.
The question is a serious one in this election, because 5 years ago is, more or less, when the cracks in the system became too big to hide. 4 years ago, at the end of September, the Republican Candidate called the economic situation a “historic crisis in our financial system“. Still, 4 years ago, people still had homes, something in savings, and hope. That question changes meaning a lot in October. This question hinges a lot on getting the timing right.
Still, we come to one of the stickiest problems in the English Language: there is no distinction between the singular and the plural 2nd person. We have to define “You”: is that singular? Is it your family? Your city? Certainly it doesn’t mean the whole nation… That would be silly, because that is something we can look at pretty easily.
On the 15th of September, 2008, the Dow closed at 10,917.51. The close on the 14th of September 2012 was 13539.86, the highest since 2007. (So far, against assumptions, it is only climbing the day after!) That says that we, as a nation, are doing pretty well, since the all time record high was 14,164.53 on October 9, 2007. (The average bottomed out for this recession at 6507.04 on March 9, 2009, just weeks after President Obama took office.) Wall Street is making money like it was in the spring of 2007, at the peak of what is internationally recognized as an artificial bubble in the American economy. So, “We” are doing well, if you mean our complete economy.
On the other hand, income disparity is up. The mean average is up, but the median income is at its lowest since 1995. That means that while we are making more money per person than any time before 2005, most of us are not feeling it. That’s a serious problem, and cutting taxes on the rich while cutting benefits for the middle-class and services for the poor, is making it worse. This is what opponents of the President are trying to pin on him, because this is why the majority of Americans aren’t included in the phenomenal growth we’ve seen over the last 3 years. It was, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pointed out, a tactic to try to keep the President from getting a second term. The GOP has boiled their base down to 2 groups: the wealthy, who care mainly about staying wealthy, and social conservatives, who care mainly about inflicting their ethics on others. They can play to both groups without offending the other, and have even convinced social conservatives that GOP economic policies are in line with their ethics, by promoting property as God’s mark of favor.
If we are talking about your community, or even just your family, then the odds are against you feeling like you are genuinely better off. It is an illusion, if for no other reason than because things today are getting better, where things 4 years ago were months away from even hitting their low.
That’s where we need to examine the phrase “better off”. What makes you better off: feeling like things have been harder the last few months than they were the months before the election, or feeling like the next few months will be better than the months leading up to Obama’s inauguration? Currently, you can buy health insurance, no matter what your health is. Women can sue over pay inequality, even if it has been kept secret from them for years. The back-bone of our economy, “the fundamentals”, is strong. We have ended hostilities in Iraq and are winding down the war in Afghanistan. How is this not better for us all?
I dare you to answer No” without being either short-sighted and ignorant, or incredibly selfish. America is better off under the current administration than it was 4 years ago, and nothing that is being proposed by his opponent leads me to believe that Mr Romney won’t just take us back down that same road to ruin that Bush Jr steered us down (though it is worth saying that there are other candidates, I don’t have time to cover all the bases). If only people were as mad at the Congress that held up progress as they are at the President who has done his best to lead, despite congressional obstruction, and give the President a legislature that was willing to work for change, rather than holding the entire country for ransom.